Rhodes: Memories

Andre Vltchek’s January 03, 2003 Commentary (“Amnesia In Rhodes”) was a pleasant surprise. One is surprised to learn that a fellow-human ( Andre) left Japan and flew to Rhodes in December (!) “to discuss politics, philosophy and democracy with the true descendents of those who believed that all people, not economic elites, should be ruling the world.” The surprise was pleasant from the realization that as long that there are Andres in this world there is hope.

As a native of Greece I think I can add some information and a few comments on Andre’s Commentary.

Andre “made dozens of attempts to discuss philosophy, foreign affairs and democracy with local men and women” , but he failed.

My explanation for this failure: a) Andre is right that Rhodes in the summer indeed looks “like an enormous souvenir store, shopping and entertainment district, e.tc.” Not only that, for the last 45 years it has been the sexual playground for young middle-class Scandinavian females. (The male “services” being offered by local and imported Greek males. In modern times sex and philosophy do not mix as they definitely did in classical Greek times).

The economic elites (mostly locals who owned land and became hotel owners) are as antipathetic as their counterparts all over the world. One does not expect them to discuss philosophy, etc. The mass of the people of Rhodes that live in the villages are “fattened” through the tourist money but not that fat as to not “discuss that crap” (that crap being “philosophy and politics”). I do not dispute that the owner of the bar in Lindos indeed said that.

What I feel is that he said that in an attempt to be cynically macho. I know that as most Greeks, he is very much interested, at least, about politics. But even if I am right about the bar owner, Andre indeed found some “fat” in Rhodes that has been deposited by the tourist money. Which makes Rhodes a not so representative place to test the attitude of the Greeks on the subjects under discussion. I think that the reactions of the Greeks in the poor villages of the mainland or the poor neighborhoods of Athens (even the middle-class ones) would have been different.

b) The Greeks of Rhodes, as most Greeks, would be a bit reticent (if not afraid) to talk politics with a foreigner, especially now after 9-11. In spite of all that crap about a stable democracy in Greece that has grown roots after the “fall” of the 1967 dictatorship, the Greeks know that if the US Embassy decides that you should go to jail, you go to jail. Only a couple of days ago a middle-aged anarchist was released from prison on probation, after spending 2 months in jail, accused of being a terrorist (according to the Embassy “directive”). Equally important, the people in Rhodes that Andre met have deep in their memory the case of Nikiforos Mandilaras.

Nikiforos was born on the island of Naxos. I used to see him down the block in Athens where I lived when he, occasionally, was visiting some friends from Naxos that lived in the neighborhood. That was just after World War II. He was about eighteen, I was fourteen. He became a lawyer and a very important member of the Greek Left. He was as famous and respected as Lambrakis, the Greek that the CIA killed and offered Gavras’s “Z” (and the title of Z Magazine!) to the world.

Immediately after the onslaught of the 1967 dictatorship Nikiforos, sensing that the military pigs would kill him, tried to get out of the country. He was persuaded to get on a merchant ship. On that ship he was killed (probably beaten to death or stabbed). His dead body was washed ashore on one of the beaches that is part of the “breathtaking scenery” that Andre describes. Any ridiculous autopsy was done by the coroners of the dictators. The captain of the ship, named Potagas, was mysteriously killed after a little while in South Africa (a CIA den). Nikiforos Mandilaras the tall well-built handsome man, was in his late thirties when he was killed. Now he is part of the historic memory of Rhodes (and of Naxos).

(Note: Nikiforos means “victory-bearing” – in Greek “niki” or “nike” means victory and “foros” or “phoros” means the one that bears or carries- hence the English word “euphoric”. “Nike” of course is the trade mark of the benevolent US shoe company. Likewise, “stavroforos” means crusader- “stavros” means cross plus “fero”- that is the crusaders of Bush the Second who will kill Saddam the infidel or the original crusaders, Christian ancestors of the infidel Bush the Second, who used the island of Rhodes as a stepping-stone in their struggle to kill the Arabs, according to Bin Laden the First.)

Andre says: “As with almost all European countries, it (Greece) is now suffering from political apathy.”

Is there political apathy in Greece? For many years I have been using what I call the “Chomsky litmus test” to test the political attitude of my fellow-Greeks. The test: I ask them if they agree that “If the Nuremberg laws were applied, then every post-war American president would have been hanged.” The vast majority (even conservatives on the Right) not only agree to that but they explode in a torrent of 4-letter words against the American president.

Do they discuss Iraq? No need to discuss it. For almost a half century they have been calling the American (elites) “Murderers of Peoples!” The last time was a few weeks ago in front of the US Embassy through a big demonstration. Today (Jan. 4, ’03), there is a full page article in ELEFTHEROTYPIA (one of the biggest dailies in Greece) presenting a summary of the last two pieces in the ZNet by Noam Chomsky (“Human Rights Week 2002″ and the Schnews “Interview With Chomsky). About 50,000 Greeks will read these articles today with deep appreciation and respect for Chomsky.

Do the Greeks hate Germans, as the bar owner in Lindos says? When the German lady minister named Bush the Second as “Hitler” there was euphoria, jubilation, and praise for the German lady all over Greece. If Schroeder holds a dignified attitude against the US in connection with Iraq he will be a hero to all the Greeks. Furthermore, there is a special relationship between the lower Greek class and the Germans.

Tens of thousands of Greeks have been working as immigrant workers (Gastarbeiter) in Germany for the last 40 years. These Greeks entered Germany without being screened in relation to their politics, in contrast to the ones that entered the US as immigrants who were meticulously screened to belong to the reactionary Right (almost fascists) or to be politically indifferent. This resulted in a healthier attitude of the Greeks, that have lived in Germany for decades, towards the Germans.

When these Greeks return to Greece they are better persons. In contrast the Greeks in the US in their majority are still reactionary.That the head of the CIA is the son of a Greek immigrant and that in the original team of the creation of the CIA there was the son of another Greek immigrant, Thomas Karamessinis, is quite indicative. When they return to Greece they are worse persons than before and they are ridiculed by the Greeks.

The Greeks consider the progressive youth of Germany as the hope of Europe. And not only that. They have always been sympathetic to the Baader-Meinhof group and they consider them as martyrs killed in the white prison cells on the orders of the US. As a matter of fact one of the martyrs who survived, a lawyer, found asylum in Greece and now is part of the Greek society.

Do the Greeks hate tourists, as the guy in Lindos says? Of course there is a grain of truth in that remark for tourists all over the world. But to generalize is always dangerous. Let us take the case of Paros, another Greek island inundated by tourists. I first visited Paros in 1957, then a virgin island by tourist standards.Now the picture is as follows:Every available space in the ground floor of the buildings has become a little shop.

What is amazing is that most of the signs of the shops look as if they are signs of shops in the old parts of the cities of Zurich, Geneva, or Munich! What happened? The mass of the tourists (European or other) are middle or lower-class. Quite a few of them stayed in Paros and are part of the community living in harmony with the natives. Thus, you meet Britons, Germans, Poles, etc, who either work as domestic help (!) for the well-off Greeks that vacation in their villas on the island or work as artists, etc. Did this affect the “virginity” of the island in a negative way? I do not think so. The Europeans offered their culture to the natives and the natives showed the Europeans a more philosophical and political way of living. Things work differently at the grassroots level than what the ruling elites expect.

Ordinary people are more mature than any Ivy League stuffed shirt expects. Around 1968 I met in Rhodes an American TWA hostess who was spending a few days off as a tourist on the island. We made the trip to (Andre’s) Lindos together. We discussed quite a few things. To my query what is her opinion about the classical Greeks she answered that she does not respect them very much because ” they looked down their nose’s at other people.” (That was when Martin Bernal probably was a teenager. The lady was in her late twenties.) I respected her for that remark. And I still do.

To close this piece, Andre is right that the people of the West “have to find (their) own answers, and exorcise (their) own demons across the Atlantic,” but not because the natives of Rhodes do not care about politics. The REAL reason is that the US economic elites are murdering the peoples of the world in the name of the American people and the hope to stop them lies ONLY with the American people themselves.

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